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never never

August 22, 2010

A while ago, I went to Neverneverland. It was here that I explored the depths of inequality, pondered consciousness and at times left it all together. I learned to be something completely different from before. Wild is not the right word, but it could work. Though the frolics through concrete jungles seemed infinite, there was still a need to return home. The most recent return brought about strange sensations. Like a tug of war, with left and right limbs as a rope.

‘Home’ in itself is not so simple. Home is a relative term. Where you physically, spiritually, and mentally perceive your home are rarely all in the same place. Maybe not even in the same form.

Home, as in the places of my past, begin in more than one place. I journeyed on a sleepy eyed bird to the first. The greeting was warm. Feelings of insecurity were aided by food, when conversation lacked it was compensated with adoring looks and gasps at how I’d transformed to something else. This version of home looks as though it has been polished each day. Polished to a point of a sterile and cold appearance. This house offered all that was needed in the material sense. There was no lack of food, that which was desired was given with ease. Given my basic experiences of somewhat feral life in Neverneverland made me uncomfortable with the complexities of being secure. Security in a financial sense did not mean that the home felt warm. Insides gutted and replaced with nicer, newer decorations. What was revealed, was a shell. Beautiful things to look at, to distract from the general apathy and disappointment.

The second of the past homes felt also felt queasy. The faces were all warm. There was little compensation, dialogue wasn’t forced. Take it easy. The insides of the home felt scattered, half in boxes. Like the day after moving in – except this time, they didn’t know when they’d be leaving. Four shared two sandwiches for dinner and conversation was light.

“Don’t feel sorry for me. I’m happy”

Though one home had all the material goods to provide for much more than it held, the other struggled. While one masked unhappiness, the other beamed with love. All the money you’ve got can’t buy happiness. Conversely, all your love has yet to change the system in which money controls our lives.

talk about dialectics. This is why I escape to Neverneverland.

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practical historical materialism

June 24, 2010

Recently, I’ve been granted the privilege of free time. I consider the time to choose a book and read it entirely to be a privilege. It implies that I have had the time and adequate funds earned from my labor to sit. It means I was able to own some of my time myself, rather than selling it to provide for my livelihood. It also implies I’ve had enough education to read, comprehend and process the texts which I’ve chosen for myself. I feel very grateful to be at a position which grants these privileges to me. It is with this thankful mind, that I feel a necessity to make my privilege a productive accomplishment.

My most recent choices were Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, and Wobblies and Zapatistas, coauthored by Staughton Lynd and Adrej Grubacic. Both works engaged me in a deeper understanding of the concept of solidarity. Solidarity is more than an action, state of being or words of encouragement. True solidarity requires a very grounded understanding of yourself, those you wish to express to and the conditions that each participant exists within. Pedagogy focuses on the importance of language and dialogues between subjects. The ways in which we express ourselves can mimic the inherent problems and inequalities of modern life. An open dialogue which demands listening and thoughtful speech can create a better understanding and enhance consciousness. One cannot explain and dictate the way to a new collective state of mind, rather we will reach it together through continuous dialogue.

“To divide the oppressed, an ideology of oppression is indispensible. In contrast, achieving their unity requires a form of cultural action through which they come to know the why and how of their adhesion to reality it requires de-ideologizing. Hence, the effort to unify the oppressed does not call for mere ideological ‘sloganizing.’ The latter, by distorting the authentic relation between the Subject and objective reality, also separates the cognitive, the affective, and the active aspects of the total, indivisible personality.” (174)

In my personal experiences, there are often calls of solidarity extended to other struggles. These struggles are (mostof the time) most definitely connected via capitalism and its tools to dismantle those with similar interests. But is it enough to simply say “we also support this too”? Does this gesture decrease the meaning of our solidarity in struggle? Instead, should we not attempt to have a real understanding of how our common goals interact and can be mutually achieved? For example, the movement around budget cuts to higher education can relate specifically to students affected by increasing racism towards immigrants. Students who are immigrants do not have the same privilege of others who choose to raise their voices for budget justice. Rather than telling them how to engage for justice while ‘in their place’ – how may we dialogue and create the best solution for a common struggle. A struggle in which the budget cuts movement may return the favor of a true dialogue. In turn, how do we use a dialogue to create a better integration with veterans in an antiwar struggle, homeless who also face budget cuts and the face of education as we know it?

In Wobblies, Staughton Lynd gives many accounts of his own practical solidarity in struggle. His engagement changed over time as he progressed into the legal field. Lynd and Grubacic find intersections between anarchism and marxism, at one point, they discuss the importance of guerrilla history. To maintain a history of these examples of practical solidarity, a record of a collective struggle. In a question to Lynd, Grubacic poses a question which, to me, takes on some of Freire’s ideas about dialogue and the power of language;

“When you say that guerrilla history views history through the eyes of its ‘victims,’ are you not afraid that we might here be taking some of the agency away from the ‘poor’ or from the ‘victims’? I sometimes wonder if this language is the most appropriate one. A related question in writing guerrilla history, a question which you have touched on before, is whether people need historians. People do tend to write history themselves. Are we, radical historians, then guerrillas who lost their way in the jungle? What is our contribution?”

Grubacic brings to light the importance of perspective. We can not recall events for anyone other than ourselves. Humans are not omnipresent – there are no singular truths. A radical history, from my perspective, is one that has been told through a participation of many. We each experience events differently, the variance in understanding creates a more rich picture, one that is easier to learn from in a holistic manner. I think back to my experience in the December 9th occupation at SFSU. Imagine if we complied experiences of all who were there for parts of the day. What a colorful and full view we could all experience!

Both of these texts have brought forth the significance of dialogue. It holds importance with each word that passes our lips, each key and pen stroke. We should seek to have all dialogues be with value. The value, of course, is not merely within the words we personally produce, but also the meanings we take in and understand from the other participants in our conversations. Beyond this, our words carry the truths of our ideas. There is a value to differences and a clear understanding of others perspectives. Stubbornness and narrow foci have an ill stench and stillness about them. An open and flowing dialogue about ideological, personal or political differences has the potential to flow into a synthesis. In a dialectical world, synthesis of oppositions is progressive. It allows for something entirely new to be created. This new synthesis can become something that has a new opposition, or perhaps, has no opposition and exists as its own collective entity.

Though it is not the main focus of either of these texts, I gained a new understanding and respect for historical materialism. Both my privilege of reading and life experiences furthered my understanding of this concept. History exists as a record of change in the lives of humans and their ways of being. What drives history? God? People? Dialectical relationships and their struggles? Marx writes in the Critique of Political Economy that

“It is not the consciousness of men that determine their existence, both their social conditions that determine their consciousness.”

This is not to say that autonomy and personal consciousness are non-existant. Instead, they are limited by the conditions of the present moment. You may recognize your class position, potential for change and possible solutions. It does not mean that everyone else will recognize this, or be in a place where this sort of contemplation is necessary.

As an example, take the concept of democracy and mass consciousness about it. This is seen as a central construct for American society and structure, however most of our society is not run democratically. Unions hold internal bureaucracies which keep collective decision-making difficult. Though we may all vote (if you’re a legal citizen without past crimes with the ability to take off work to vote) it is rarely through this process that we witness large changes to society. Instead, capital is the factor that manipulates much of our lives. Whether it is lobbyists who affect those we elect or the working poor who lose social services during economic crisis. Democracy is not about any of these things though. Democracy is about collective decision-making and collective power. Democracy is a method for dialogue and an attempt at fairness. It should make sense that mass perception about democracy is skewed, democracy does not exist within American material conditions. (Aren’t I participating democratically by taking part in this facebook poll?!?!?!)

While hearing someone else give that example (much more) eloquently, I began to see the value in using historical materialism as a practical lens. Take my own personal life. I have become horribly indecisive. I get anxious thinking about what’s to come, but have a difficult time deciding how to approach it. My mind can race with millions of possible outcomes while passively waiting, doing nothing. I took a moment the other day to look at this logically. There is nothing wrong with my indecisive nature, as long as it doesn’t keep me from finally choosing action. It is better, I think, to wait and not make decisions too hastily. I will never know how to plan for something months from now, and it’s quite impossible to do so. The best decisions will be made by looking at all of the history of your experiences up to that very moment. Take these lessons from your own radical history – and apply the material conditions of your present life. When looking at my choices this way, decisions seem to make themselves.

In terms of organizing and building to change things, how can we use this? The importance of open and thoughtful dialogue has been stressed (not only by myself). Within these dialogues and syntheses of ideas, we must also be mindful or present conditions and the history that brought us to this moment. More importantly, this teaches us patience. Not everything moves exactly as planned. History often teaches that change is painfully slow.

all of these things are easier said than done. personally, i’m trying to learn to shut my mouth more. to take in the full condition of human existence within the scope of history and our material conditions.

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Trending

May 3, 2010

One of the things that makes me the most uncomfortable is when I begin to notice patterns in things. Looking at one’s life dialectically will do this to you. You start to notice what changes in relationship to what doesn’t. The things that transition easily and the things that cause struggle and strife all the way. Those subjects which appear immovable, that which flows.

And these observations are held within our constructs of time. That which is different now from how it was. That which is the same and remains the same. That which moves rapidly.

But when we continue on our trajectory through time, but notice that perhaps we have not changed past situations – it is a truly frightening moment. To come to a new place, space, time and situation but hold the same feelings as before carries a tone of childish notions and a stubbornness.

like when you find yourself quietly putting away things and articles. Knowing full well that they’ve been lying around for weeks. Knowing that the reason now is the time to put them away, is because you’re avoiding something else. Knowing that confrontation is still difficult to conceive. That the conversations are unpleasant, so sometimes its better to avoid them. While pondering this familiar sense of dodging, knees give out and you simply sit down in the closet. This feels like something you’ve felt before. Like a thin sheet of ice lining your skin.

What stone has been left unturned? What haven’t we figured out yet? What’s stunting my growth? Fearing conflict is natural. But after noticing various enough patterns of injustice, it becomes impossible to not speak. Mouth dry and dusty, you begin to articulate. But here lies yet another problem, if your voice is rusty how do you know you shall say the right things? How do you know that you will be convincing enough to break the patterns and shatter the chains of routine?

And how do these personal aspects which need some nurturing affect the political. If confrontation about a subject only becomes perfected when it is dire, how will the eloquence become the norm? How do we change what we have only begun to notice as a problem?

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response/responsibility

April 12, 2010

University administration reacted out of fear when they began to use police force to brutalize protests. Jabbed by batons, hurled to the ground, students took their punishment. Zip-tied, bound, physically repressed, the university could return to business. It is performing exactly as administration intends a university to perform. This institution is not a place for growth, learning, and expansion of consciousness – it is a place to generate profit. The university does not create enough profit when there is dissent.

Administration decided that dissent was so costly, that it must be repressed with physical force. Now, the administration has decided that struggle is so expensive, students should foot the bill. This preventative measure allows for the University to shift the blame of costly damages as well as repress the most outspoken advocates for budget justice. It is not coincidence that those who fight on the side of the workers, staff, faculty and working class are the ones who are also being asked to pay an extraordinary amount.

The administration has asked occupiers to pay damages for several reasons.

The University now operates on a business model. Allowing student control of a building for even 24 hours causes the University to lose on profit. It also cost the University to repress the student control. Pigs are apparently expensive beasts to transport, pay and lodge. Rather than taking responsibility for its own actions (hiring police, the police breaking a window) the University can break even if it forces students to pay for the fiasco. The student controlled space provided no real threats education or the rest of the campus. It was a choice that the administration made to repress its own students. Robert Corrigan, University president shuns demonstrators for asking amnesty and scoffs that we should be responsible and accountable. Yeah, you too buddy. Take responsibility for smashing the students you are supposed to represent.

The administration is being discriminatory in a class based perspective. It knows that these students who are demonstrating, who risk their bodies, who lose their voices are the ones screaming for affordable -better yet free- education for all. They know that these students are the last ones who have a spare $700 lying around. If the administration succeeds at shoving these unreasonable demands down student’s throats, they have quietly dealt with the biggest thorns in its side. Student demonstrations force the administration to show that it also plays a part in delivering budget cuts. When action is directed on individual campuses, the university bureaucracy can no longer point at Sacramento. It is forced to show its hands, one which takes orders on how to keep the university functioning regardless quality and another to squash those who disagree. If it can stifle those who are the most vocal, without using public methods such as expulsion – they have become more effective. Therefore, forcing this onto struggling students is a cost effective method of silencing some of the dissenters on campus.

It is paramount that we respond to these attempts at repression. If one University can succeed at forcing students to shut their mouths, then the rest will follow.

We are brought back to the concept of responsibility. If we are to be responsible to the movement for higher education, then our voices must grow in both numbers and volume. This responsibility is owed to each other, to higher education, to grow, to those who have enjoyed public education and to those who wish to enjoy it. Now is not the time to let the administration instill fear into the campus. Whether it ticket you for cigarettes, or arrest you for defending education, it no longer represents education or you. The administration represents the university as a business, will you allow it to function in this manner?

“Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but because conscience tells one it is right.” – MLK

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survival of the fittest

March 11, 2010

I have another blog that’s more current to add, but one time I wrote a paper about a band. Academic, but I dig it. do you?

In 2001, Desaparecidos, an indie rock group from Saddle Creek records in Omaha, Nebraska was formed. The group consisted of Conor Oberst, Landon Hedges, Casey Scott, Matt Baum, Denver Dalley, and Ian McElroy. It was a side project, as Oberst, McElroy and Baum performed in Bright Eyes, and Hedges was the drummer of The Good Life – all bands on the Saddle Creek label. Their only album, “Read Music/Speak Spanish” was recorded in a week, and a reviewer noted that it “has a live rock feel. You’ll hear the white noise of distorted guitar, as well as subtle things,” such as recorded conversations between band members and friends (McMahan, 2002). This album departs from each of the member’s other bands lyrically, as it is not deeply personal or introspective. “Read Music/Speak Spanish” expresses social anxieties about imperialist capitalism in our nation, gender roles, and modern commodification. Through the use of physical symbols and imagery, “Read Music/Speak Spanish” demonstrates the ways in which we have become alienated by our own “American” lifestyle. This expression is relevant because music can be seen as an outlet for social protest and creative change.

The band’s name translates to a forced disappearance, and a deprivation of liberties. The term Desaparecidos specifically refers to disappearances that often led to torture or death in South America during Operation Condor (NSA). Condor was a radically violent attempt to eradicate socialist influence and all potential threats to the government, claiming more than 60,000 victims. The United States has been linked to support of Operation Condor through State Department files that have been declassified. The band’s choice of this term can be read as critique of the Cold War administrations and U.S. intervention in South America. When art forms are persecuted in ways reminiscent of the McCarthy era, musicians feel pressure to censor their art. Tricia Rose explains corporate control of art in an examination of hip hop; “artist freedoms are actually constrained and channeled by media corporations; claims about freedom of speech are made to defend the bottom line, not artist’ rights to speak freely” (Rose, 155).  Punk music has often been seen as a subculture of resistance, and Desaparecidos fits into this genre not only in sounds but actions – such as producing on an independent label. Arguably, this is what allows the band to make some of its critiques of capitalism, as well as singer Oberst’s success as a solo artist in addition to co-founding Saddle Creek records. With this background, we can begin to analyze the symbolism implanted in the names that the band has chosen. Comparing this to the title of “Read Music/Speak Spanish” we can see that Desaparecidos sympathizes with the disappeared in South America, recognizing the threats of imperialism. To “read music” implies that they express their dissent through art work and the means by which their art is produced.

The album’s content takes on rebellion not only in the symbolism of title, but its lyrics spew and scream critiques of contemporary society. McMahan elaborates in a 2002 article that, “though it’s not a concept album, “Read Music/Speak Spanish” is held together lyrically by reflections on modern-day consumerism, urban sprawl, and the frantic pace of America’s never ending hunger for more, more, more.”

capitalism

The goal of any direct action or protest against the ruling class should be to expose the power structure’s agenda. This album contains these protests in the screeching vocals and shrill sloppy chords. The lyrics use dry humor and satire “based on the state of affairs in America” in order to showcase the downfalls of capitalism. (McMahan, 2001). The sixth song on the album, “Happiest Place on Earth” invokes much of the questions of significance, language and myth. This can best be analyzed in the methods of author Roland Barthes’ “Myth Today”.

Oh God, good God shed greed on thee, your shining sea turned a dirty green from the industry off the shores of New Jersey.

This phrase plays upon ‘God shed grace on thee’, from the anthem ‘America’ and standard themes in what many have come to call a ‘Generica’ – a consumerist shell of a former ideal, exposing the deterioration brought by industrialization and globalization. Barthes would call ‘shining seas’ the signifier that America’s liberty, spread across the country- from ‘sea to shining sea.’ This liberty has become a consumer good to be sold across the country and globally. Barthes explains that myth is a type of speech (Barthes, 109), just as the lyrics hold a sarcastic tone and play with the meaning of traditional examples of American nationalism. The commodification of all goods and childhood memories through the Disney Corporation is highlighted:

Oh God, my God, give strength to thee, these amber waves, purple majesty, are nothing but backdrops for Disney. Well look up close. It is superimposed, on a blank blue screen. It is fantasy, fucking magical. The dream floats like a chemical through each snapped synapse. Our television past that is beautiful no more.

The last two lines draw an image of brainwashed addiction to consumption of goods and mass media. The band seems to contrast Stuart Hall’s stance that popular culture can be political, and instead views consumption of mass culture as brainwashed worship (Hall, 186).

Track 8, ‘$$$$’ explores globalization and relationships to goods and production.

If you’ve got a special interest, there is influence I could sell. Just like water takes the shape of where it is held. I’m overflowing with ambition but I got to keep in mind the bottom line is the dollar sign. And big, bright lights. Inequality franchised. The next location is mine.

The perspectives of the lyrics show undying loyalty to profit and further investment regardless of fairness or equality. This draws relation to two class essays, by Benjamin and Halter. In “Author as Producer”, Walter Benjamin explains that a poet must choose a position in their art, insisting that all art is political. Since it is reproduced and commodified, it becomes “an ever –increasing process of rationalization…The phonograph record, the sound film, jukeboxes can purvey top-quality music…canned as a commodity” (Benjamin, 231). Alan O’Connor explains that not all punk music requires a political message “[f]or some people, punk must have an oppositional political practice. Others reject leftist and anarchist politics as an imposition from outside” however, we can clearly see Desaparecidos requires and demands a level of politicization (O’Connor, 226). In this example, Oberst has taken artistic license and satire to portray the interests of the bourgeoisie class. To have overflowing ambition but be constantly focused upon the cost and profit underlies the greed that accompanies access to the means of production. Second, Halter’s piece titled “From Community to Commodity” illustrates the way minority groups are specifically targeted for marketing purposes. In the 1980’s “one toy company executive declared: ‘How can you ignore these ethnic streams of revenue? You can’t. The color of money is green, and you get it from whatever skin tone has got it”’ (Halter, 25). This often offensively over generalizes and quantifies the worth of ethnic groups so as to pander to a “special interest.” Any bit of individuality is used and analyzed by marketing departments to best target each subculture or minority. Even if these minorities access popular culture differently, they will be segmented shamelessly for the sake of profit, so that their inequality becomes revenue.

In his early career, philosopher Karl Marx argued that in a capitalist society labor becomes quantified so that “the worker sinks to the level of a commodity and becomes indeed the most wretched of commodities” (Marx, 70). When one becomes separated from the means of production, they are in turn forced to sell themselves and their effort as a good. Marx goes on to state that the separation from the means of production creates alienation. “The fact that labor is external to the worker – i.e., does not belong to his essential being; that he, therefore does not confirm himself in his work, but denies himself, feels miserable and not happy, does not develop free mental and physical energy, but mortifies his flesh and ruins his mind” (Marx, 74). The seventh song, “Survival of the Fittest/It’s a Jungle Out There” vividly paints an image of working class alienation and enslavement.

The news cameras capture Guerilla warfare. Eagles into buildings crash landed. Despair is all that there is now. In a cubical cage that smells like a Rat, whose smile gets bigger along with your debt. Don’t take it personal. It’s just business.

Modern labor conditions of offices can often seem like a cage or an uncomfortable encasement for the worker. The very concept of a cubicle, forcing workers into tiny spaces for long periods of time, is alienating. The mantra of those who own the means of production (i.e. cubical farms) is repeated as if to somehow offer reassurance – “it’s just business”. Furthermore, the title makes an allusion to Charles Darwin’s premise of natural selection. The idea that those who are more ‘fit’ continue to reproduce and thrive has been replicated by advocates of capitalism. Those who are “the diligent, intelligent, and above all frugal elite” prosper, while the rest are “lazy rascals, spending their substance and more, in riotous living” (Marx, 431). A capitalist would argue rodent-like working conditions exist because the worker did not reach to their fullest potential, where as a Marxist analysis explains that there are inequalities built into the political economy which forces workers into these conditions. Expressing anger about the capitalist system’s inequalities through song is a form of both education to the masses and of dissent.

gender

Gender issues in “Read Music/Speak Spanish” appear in their relationship to the overconsumption and subsequent labor required of working class people. The two songs that most prominently display an example of gender roles are “Man and Wife, the Former (Financial Planning)” which “documents a couple’s false dreams and struggle to call themselves ‘middle class’” (McMahan, 2002). The next of the pair alters the first title, but carries on the theme with “Man and Wife, the Latter (Damaged Goods),” now the couple has grown far apart, gaining material possessions, but blocking each other out. Oberst changes the tone in the two pieces from a masculine, patriarchic tone, to a defeated, apathetic and weaker spouse in “the Latter.”  The “Former” illustrates a nurturing need to provide

I just wanted to provide for you. But if you want to make a run for it my love I’d cover you. And if you need money for bills, my lover, I could cover you.

The tone changes and is more bitter and cutting in “Man and Wife, the Latter (Damaged Goods)”:

So you want to change. You read a letter from a lawyer. Want to take me out to dinner. Want to bury me under a mound of shopping bags. Like it would really make a difference, or make up for your disinterest. I’m a bill you pay. I’m a contract you can’t break.

Benjamin would argue that Oberst as a “producer” is making a social commentary that material goods and commodification detract from the values of human relationships. In the “Former” it is implied that a lover could buy affection, but in the “Latter”  the protagonist is only further estranged by gifts. Both songs describe a relationship that in itself has become commodified.

“$$$$” makes a comment about standards of beauty specifically for women, that are quantified and normalized through common but unreachable images conveyed by mass media and celebrities. This can be clearly focused with an examination of the pressures for thinness.

I know there’s all body types but we have just one size. I don’t care if it’s tight. It’s the dollar signs and the big, bright lights. Inequality franchised.

This “franchised” inequality in the passage is multifaceted through layers of race, class and gender. This is illustrated in the need to be skinny; many cases of women idolizing celebrities have been accompanied by excessive behavior that Joli Jenson blames upon the media. A fan, seen often as hysterical with obsession is “seen as being brought into (enthralled) existence by the modern celebrity system, via the mass media” (Jenson, 10). Some of these obsessions can manifest themselves into serious eating disorders in order to fit into the only size offered by a standardized concept of beauty. This too is “inequality franchised”, because women who are seen in the typical and unrealistic view of beauty are objectified and deemed to be worth more, often given better service or treated differently than those that don’t fit the ideal. This also draws in themes from Rosaldo’s theory of cultural citizenship. In order for the female to assimilate into the popular culture, she must fit into society’s framework. In this case, if she does not have the same body size as the models or celebrities that represent women in popular culture, she does not have citizenship into society. This implies that a normal and average female cannot be represented in popular culture and must choose to either mold to normative constructs or stand different.

While these points can be drawn from “Read Music/Speak Spanish”, it should be noted that the album overwhelmingly draws from a male standpoint and normalizes this perspective. This can be simple to understand in the fact that all members of the band are male, and more abstract when taken in the construct of the more progressive dialogues about class mentioned in the album. It does not appear that they have left out female perspectives because they are not worthy or irrelevant, but instead that the perspective has not been taken into account.

The easiest way to see a connection made between commodification and gender are the very first words spoken on the album. The song “Man and Wife, The Former (Financial Planning)” begins with two female voices in conversation. The first states “um…as far as supportive, he would have to support me financially” and the second replies, “um… I like a man that has money (laughs) um… that has goals in life”. By starting the album in this manner, Desaparecidos seems point at commodification taking over human emotions, such as love. It even points some blame to women, over generalizing all females as ‘gold diggers.’ It is through this commodification of emotions that brings destruction to the album’s couple in “the Latter.” In Phillip Vaninni’s essay “Will You Marry Me?” he explains how modern love has been commodified, culminating in the act of proposal. “Romance, as every relationship in a capitalist society, has been permeated by the logic of exchange” just as the relationships exist in this album. “As production and consumption have expanded, mass communication has been transmitting to the public a visual idea of love as spectacle. The romanticization of commodities occurs when media portray certain products and services as romantic” (Vaninni, 171). This also implies all females are driven by greed and possessions: love is no longer relevant. Popular culture and modern society often denies that a female perspective is inherently different from a male’s. Though it is not to say that the album cannot be enjoyed by females, they may instead recall Rosaldo, and not see themselves completely represented within the lyrics and music.

commodification

The most undeniable and easily recognized theme in the album is commodification and overproduction of an imperialist country. We see this at the macro level, through globalization, and at the micro, through the commodification of love in both of the “Man and Wife” songs. On “the Latter,” a defeated spouse seems to moan and cry out about the commodification of emotions;

I’m growing out my hair, like it was when I was single. It was longer than I’ve known you, I had no money then, I had no worries then at all. Such a high standard of living, I just feel like I am dying.

Here, the band is clearly making a statement against commodification and a focus on goods over relationships. When the spouse was single and without many possessions he felt care free, but with a “high standard of living,” he expresses a desire to die, and leave a world of burden. Once again expressed an alienation from the modern capitalist society.

One of the more “subtle” elements of conversation occurs before the song “Greater Omaha”, which describes urban sprawl. A conversation between band member Conor Oberst and a friend, explains that one feels the small town of Omaha needs some chain stores “maybe a Starbucks or something,” to which Oberst mutters an explicative “I don’t want to shop.” Throughout the album, Desaparecidos expresses a theme of Marxist-style alienation caused by modern commodification and separation from the products of labor. Because the labor to produce goods is external to the worker, they may not be able to appreciate it and are increasingly alienated by it.

Cynthia Enloe explains how goods often serve as a representative of a lesser nation to an imperialist importer, just as bananas served as a bridge from Latin America to the U.S. In Desaparecidos example, Starbucks is a representative of a large city mass culture to a rural small town population. While some welcome the acceptance of popular culture, others are separated by its imposition. Most of the band’s members are a part of Saddle Creek Records, an independent label formed in Omaha, Nebraska. Middle America has experienced industrialization differently from California, for example. Major metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles and San Francisco have become the epicenters of commodification and urban sprawl. The modern American epic of Manifest Destiny is no longer the journey out west, but the journey to build upward throughout the country. California, New York and other coastal cities have experienced this growth more quickly than the Middle America.

The album’s artwork itself shows how urban sprawl has crept its way into the Midwest. A transparency that features rows of cookie-cutter houses placed on top of each other can be lifted to see a color picture of a hot tar highway bordered by fields of orangey grain. The empty skyline of blush is all the more pleasing by comparison to the grey planning style transparency. The inside of the lyrics booklet is formed in the style of a city planning report that details a new estate that would include endless tracts of homes. In between the lyrics for each song is information about the “grading and drainage” or “parks and open space,” showing the meticulous planning involved in the transformation of rural America to suburbia. It is interesting to note that the final analysis of the plan states:

“As proposed, this development has a debt ratio that is a little too high. This is largely attributable to the park, boulevard and school that are included in the project…. As designed, it will be difficult to maximize the large area park on adjacent properties and connect the boulevard to the 192nd Street at the _ mile point.”

The analysis mirrors common policy to regard education and public space as unimportant or an unprofitable investment. Rather than looking at the community benefits of a school or parks, those who drafted the analysis only see the bottom line cost to profit ratio.

We further see commodification of artwork and the creative process in “Mall of America”. Oberst is making a statement about participation in Desaparecidos (the disappeared) while being the singer of another folk band.

They say its murder on your folk career to make a rock record with the Disappeared. We’ll let to police helicopters pull stereos out of the lake. There is no image that I must defend. There are not art forms now just capitalism. So send the National Guard to the Mall of America.

The lyrics express feeling of pressure to produce and commodify art into the form more popular and profitable. There are political decisions made by artists about how they assimilate into commodification and mass consumption. Ryan Moore explains in his article “Friends Don’t Let Friends Listen to Corporate Rock” how this kind of exclusion or “murder” on one’s career can be meaningful, because indie and punk subcultures can be seen as “enclaves of resistance to ‘hegemony,’ a form of covert opposition to be taken for granted ideologies embedded in symbols, rituals and popular culture” (Moore, 439). The song has loud chugging guitars that are dragged along by a wailing voice dripping with disdain. The disregard for precision of sound and fast paced playing style seem to mirror that “there is no image” to defend. Moore would agree with the next line of the song that capitalism encompasses even creative spheres of production; “no field can be completely independent…[from] the influence and pressure of class, power and markets are they are ordered in the overarching social system” (Moore, 439).

Mass marketing means – creative expression and imagination are products in themselves. To produce art and create something for an audience, artists must conform, market, and sell their creative output. Just as workers must sell their labor, the musicians of the band have commodified their production of music. The abrasive sound of the guitars, buzzing bass lines and Oberst’s screaming voice, all convey the alienation that these artists feel from commodifing their artwork. Music can be seen as a site of protest, and the artists in Desaparecidos have taken protest through their creations and actions on an independent record label.

conclusion

Desaparecidos lyrics are stinging satire and a social commentary on an imperialist and capitalist America that has squandered its promise. Benjamin argues that popular culture must have some level of political awareness; here we see that a political statement exists and shapes the art. The themes of the nation, gender roles, and commodification all serve as sources of anxieties for the working class citizen. “Author as Producer” argues that a poet must choose their class side; here we see an expression of working class struggles and manipulation. The overall goal of projects such as “Read Music/Speak Spanish” is to raise awareness and in the best case scenario, create action among listeners. There is one example however, that gives voice to an empowered working class of equal peoples. “Manana” offers the hope of a true grassroots change:

What you learned, what you read in their books, all they offered. What you saw when they to look, a final offer. Well today we are giving birth to a new future. Yes, today we are giving birth to our own future. We will learn. We will love. We will work to change each other. We will spread. We will cover the earth like air and water. Tomorrow is blank. We’ll just fill it in with our own answers. If we are stopped, we’ll just start again. That is the new offer. That’s it. That is our final offer.

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3.4.10

March 9, 2010

This day cannot be fully explained by any one perspective. Even if you experienced it, your story is not a totality, but one piece to a large puzzle. This is my perspective of the day at SFSU.

But I suppose that this did not begin in the day time at all, instead we started early. On the third, was our supposed last General Assembly before the day of action. Rosa Parks A-C held a few people, some of whom were new and ready to get involved. The problem was that the room did not contain a plan, a facilitator, a structure or even an agenda. The few people who did come quickly segmented themselves into different, individual projects for the next day. I viewed this ‘meeting’ as emblematic of our failing coalition. The weeks before M4, we saw the meetings get smaller and less structured. The debates that were emerging often took more of a personal turn and came off as attacks. This not only alienates people from working in a coalition, but keeps the coalition from functioning as it should. In general we lack outreach to new forces that could both bring new ideas and help us to turn away from attacking each other. But we also lack structure- by which I suppose I mean a focus. It is easy to get wrapped up in debates about inane details and forget our true purpose, what we are actually striving towards. I hope that we can adjust our scope soon, but without a date (such as M4) to set our sights on, I feel that the forces that are trying to build and create will only further segment themselves.

The General Assembly dwindled into banner making and questions about what we thought the next day would bring. A few hours later, a mobile dance party began in Malcolm X Plaza. The steady pounding of bass began with a little more that 15 energized supporters. The party traveled to the dorms and began to build in size and excitement. The dancing crowd continuously got more rowdy, losing articles of clothing along the way. The spirit of this party was unquestionably positive, and gave me much needed hope for the next day.

But at a certain point, somewhere in between a girl flashing the crowd and people spray painting on top on the Caesar Chavez Student Center, I began to question if this was about quality or quantity? We need to enjoy ourselves while in the midst of struggle, but did this dance party increase our picket lines the following day? Judging by how difficult it was to maintain them for much more than a few hours, I cannot say that they did. My own consciousness is mixed about the nature of a dance party (this could have to do with me just liking to dance). I felt both inspired by the spirit of the party and worried that it was nothing more than that – a party. Given the method in which these dance parties are both built and maintained, it is difficult to really inject politics into them. Rather, they stay as parties which also say something about occupations and budget cuts on the fliers. Someone holds banners and gives out signs but after hours of dancing, most drop them…

Some at the party attempted to create an occupation of Burk Hall. They successfully entered the building and began to barricade. Then some who were inside began throwing tables and breaking windows. Again, this day demonstrated mixed ideas about tactics. Some who were willing to occupy and barricade the building were alienated by the acts of destruction. In the last few weeks of coalition meetings, a debate about violence v. nonviolence had emerged, this clearly demonstrates its relevance. They left the building and occupation to fail. The party continued, students seemed more interested in the music anyways.

After a failed occupation, the police presence drew closer to the party. It was already about 1am. Sleep was needed.

I returned to the pickets at 7am. Different organizations had agreed to create and maintain pickets around buildings. This was especially exciting to see organizations of color specifically choosing to participate. One of my favorite pickets was MENChA’s picket at the Ethnic Studies building. In the early morning, they zip tied trashcans to the building, blockading the entrances for the day. Unfortunately, the police removed the barricades. I wish that MENChA could have had a stronger picket. Perhaps if we had been a little more clear and systematic with our outreach, this could have happened.

SUP maintained a relatively strong picket at the business building for the morning. The line was sturdy and had speakers who were articulate in their analysis. These pickets were designed to be flexible, those who were not convinced of the necessity of action would be allowed to pass. This meant that we needed to rely on our own arguments to convince and win over other students. It was much more difficult than I expected. It is terribly hard to let someone pass you by, pushing you out of their way. At the same time, it was a testament to our own dedication and political persistence when one person was convinced – we experienced victory.

At ten, there was a bit of debate about the nature of the CFA’s picket at 19th and Holloway. Members of the CFA had been especially hostile to student organizers on the day of, and many felt alienated by the union. Yet again, I feel that this development was symbolic of the fact that SFSUnited has not been working as a coalition. The events felt scattered, and in the fear of spontaneous action, the CFA attempted to maintain a choke hold on the day’s plans. I can understand their fear, they have much less security than students. It is therefore, the role of the students to inspire the teachers and convince them we are in the same struggle. We also must build a greater trust between students and faculty. The level of tension that existed between members of the coalition was insane, and they day did not need any of this added to it.

The CFA’s picket quickly grew in size, taking up about half of the campus which boarders 19th. On the whole, there was more marching and chanting here, and less dialogue than the building pickets. The picket did, however, draw a lot of media attention. Perhaps it was the attention or the fear that made some demonstrators so apprehensive of the attempted takeover at 19th ave. Students began to enter the highway and tried to blockade. There was instant police presence, but it seemed that the lack of unanimous support is what drew students off the street. I cannot say for sure what exactly made the decision clear, but the block did not last. This begs the question; does spontaneous action work often enough for us to completely disregard the planning of it? Can we truly expect to pull off direct action without a loosely based plan? Or, was the problem more that there was a mixed opinion on whether or not the plan was a good one?

Like many other moments in the day, this too fizzled to a slower pace. Students were revived when the creative arts rally began at noon. This rally drew in a large number of students who had high energy and emotions. Feelings of oppression and abuse by budget cuts were being expressed through poem, song, dance and acting. With all of the energy that radiated through the crowd, direct action could have happened. It could have happened well. SFSU may have missed an opportunity by not calling for an action while everyone was still in the quad and still excited about fighting budget cuts. Instead, the rally too fizzled into teach-ins, dance parties and a little bit of disappointment.

Though I’ve put forward critiques, in no way do I consider M4 a failure. Instead, I think we should all be analyzing what went well and what did not. As we’ve all said many times, this is only the beginning. So next time, I propose a few things:

Have a coalition that actually functions and trusts itself. If we are going to kill ourselves sitting through long and arduous meetings, they should at least have a point and a purpose. Rather than getting personally offended by differing viewpoints I hope that we can instead let them stand to a vote, and have one be chosen by the coalition. I feel as though we should be a little clearer about what the coalition is trying to achieve. Is our purpose to open up more spaces for students to participate (like general assemblies) or are we trying to build the movement ourselves?

Have honest assessments of what each action does. A general assembly does not easily radicalize a large group of people. Instead, it serves as a space to democratically decide which actions can and will best involve mass amounts of people. A dance party is fun, but does not raise political awareness or ideas about how to fight the budget cuts. These purposes could (and should be) debated, as I don’t really have the authority to dictate what an action does.

Who should we be orienting to? It is clear that relationships between students and members of the CFA are strained at best. How can we draw the faculty into more of the organizing and make them feel comfortable participating? For the student who is drawn to the idea of dance parties, how can we draw them to action and a dialogue about public education in relationship to the working class. And of course, how can we reach out the students who have yet to see the value in taking any action at all?

OUTREACH. Even though we had an infrastructure to have potentially awesome outreach, it fell through. How can we improve this in the future? It seems as though folks may just have to do more…

That we determine a new day of action. I fear that without something to mobilize and build this support around, our existing structures may continue to crumble (SFSUnited, GA). I always think it’s nice to have something to look forward to…

Please leave comments, critiques, thoughts, etc. I’m sortof trying to get back into the habit of writing frequently, so let me know if things aren’t clear.

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inhale.

March 3, 2010

Twenty four hours from now, things are going to be very different.

I took today to sleep. To rest, to prepare myself as much as I can be prepared. The fact of the matter is, I can’t really prepare myself or anyone for the future. One of the things that has confused me the most about the student movement, and the ‘activists’ within it is our constant need to predict. The future is impossible to see. Could we have been more productive by creating plans and building them broadly – rather than bickering about the best way to carry something out? The way that would be most representative of people who weren’t in the room.

The point is that the entire campus wasn’t in the meetings. Nor were the people planning the next day even in the same meetings with one another. How can we aim to speak for more than just ourselves and still claim to be democratic? Instead, we should leave spaces open, where everyone can feel comfortable to participate. My goal is that tomorrow, no single part of campus alienates a student or worker. March 4th is a date that will unfold on its own. We can build a foundation, but we cannot predict the color of the house (though my bet is red).

Historical materialism is a method for understanding the world around in terms of a collective. It requires reflection upon all of the history up until this point, as well as the material conditions of the present. Over the last weekend, this movement has gone through serious changes. It has now taken on a stronger affinity with fighting racism, as nooses and hoods were found upon UCSD’s campus. These symbols show that America still holds bastions of racism, and though we can feign equality, it is not one of totality. In addition, homophobic graffiti was found on UCD’s campus. The level of disrespect and intolerance that is emerging has to do with education in many forms. But the most concrete, and simple way to put it is to say that Ethnic Studies and Gender studies are some of the first programs cut within the budget crisis. There are less and less ways to teach tolerance, and engage a community. In addition, resource centers which helped oppressed communities are also in the first rounds of cuts.

And yet another element were the ‘riots’ in Berkeley, and the subsequent discussion of privilege. Though some students are offended by this discussion, I see its merits and feel that it is a discussion that should be had openly. The movement itself has become segmented in the midst of a larger sentiment of prejudice. The mixed consciousness that creates these symbols of hate seems to stem through our generation. Calling something ‘gay’ is somehow not offensive, making parties themed around racism is fine, and describing women (sometimes describing themselves) as ‘bitches’ is just slang. A radical generation is trying to do away with oppression, but has yet defined what is an oppressive force, and how we sometimes facilitate the oppression of ourselves and peers. To cast  aside a conversation about white privilege is detrimental to the growth of all of our consciousness.

Instead of discussing what is tearing keeping people apart in public, we do it on the internet. Instead of talking about how to get more involved, sometimes we bicker about dates or what something should be called. At a certain point, I wonder, have we put too much emphasis on planning? So much so, that it was no long meaningful in productivity but in hearing ourselves speak.

So is it an application of historical materialism to constantly pick apart an action/date/GA? Or should we instead be laying a canvas for the whole campus to paint collectively. Should we ignore discussions that are relevant because they are difficult? Or should we openly confront the divisions that face us. In the end I think we would find that these divisions stem from the ruling class rather than our comrades.

Tomorrow, the campuses will speak for themselves. If there is a framework, and a structure that allows for breath and movement, then I think we have done our jobs. Then again, I don’t have a crystal ball, and I don’t want to make predictions.

So rather than writing what I hope comes from tomorrow, I can only wait. I can only go to so many meetings to gain perspectives on what I think everyone is doing. The pieces I hold are not the collective whole of what tomorrow is. I will not see that whole until the spirit and love of everyone involved fills up the spaces. Genuine, spontaneous action for the love of education and human rights is not something I think I could even describe in words, let alone before I experience it. So I wait.

this is only the calm before the storm, and i can’t quite get my thoughts together now…